Mar 3, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Dynamo defender Philippe Senderos (4) and Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron (10) battle for the ball during the second half at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Garcia had played in three MLS games before Saturday, so it’s safe to say he had never been in a bigger spot.
Facing one of the preseason favorites on opening day, the Dynamo were intent on setting the tone for another positive season. Garcia drew one of the tallest tasks by lining up at right back. It meant he would have to deal with star midfielder Miguel Almirón and forward Josef Martínez throughout the game.
Like anyone else, Garcia had his hiccups. He had some good moments, too. When the final whistle blew, Garcia and his fellow defenders had a clean sheet against a team that scored 70 goals last season.
“I had some opening day jitters, but once you start the game you’re focused,” Garcia said. “You know what the game plan is.”
It appears coach Wilmer Cabrera’s game plan throughout the preseason was to have Garcia or George Malki start at right back despite their lack of experience.
Cabrera never asked Adolfo Machado, who plays right back for the World Cup-bound Panama national team, to play there during the preseason when doing so would have meant solidifying one of the more experienced back lines in the league.
Garcia emerged as Cabrera’s top choice at right back after a few weeks. If there was any doubt he would start the season opener, it went away when Malki suffered a concussion during a preseason game.
Once A.J. DeLaGarza returns to top fitness following his recovery from surgery on his ACL, he’ll likely be worked back into the starting XI. Until then, Garcia hopes to get as many minutes as possible.
“I appreciate the opportunity in front of me, playing on such a good team against good opposition,” Garcia said. “We’ve been battling all preseason for that right back spot. It wasn’t given to anybody at the start of the preseason. I grew more confident and stable in that position.”